It was a normal match of Titanfall 2. We were losing, but not by much. If I could have kept my kill rate just a bit further above my death rate, victory would be within our grasp. After a quick death, I re-spawned by a window and began firing at a mech in the distance. And then…
Thunder and blood was turned into silence. It was serene, almost like the moment before death. I could not move, but had a moment to appreciate the beauty of the landscape. The world around me removed from the noise it was there for. Then, there was no re-spawn, the game quit. I never saw what happened next. It’s easy to extrapolate that this was some final moment. My mech pilot envisioned an end to war that she would not live to truly see.
In film or painting there is always evidence. Thick splatters of paint. Or the shadow of a boom mike. Even the most brilliantly made films or the most painstakingly rendered paintings have these moments of humanity. Games can seem to be distant from that. The mechanical perfection of a Mario or even the punchy gunplay of something like Titanfall can obscure the humans who created it. Our need for the “complete game” makes us feel that a masterpiece is created by some kind of mechanical process. Eventually we’ll create the perfect thing and all other games will cease. Still, video games break. Characters fall through the landscape. AI characters walk into walls and shout random barks over and over again. Code brings something else to life, unanticipated by those who wrote it. Video games are alive and they can never quite be contained. They can never really fit in ideas of masterpieces and 10/10s.
Walter Benjamin describes “[The film actor’s] performance is by no means a unified whole, but is assembled from many individual performances.” When we are with someone, whether on a stage or more casually, we feel their presence, their rippling weight. Films and games defuse the presence of images and people. Sure, big budget games try to compensate with high fidelity and ever skyrocketing team sizes and polygon counts. But the human presence of paint or sweat can never really be captured. Yet, yet… The broken chaos of the world gets through. A voice speaks through the machine. We look at an actors eyes and feel our own weight. We find a moment of peace in a space defined by conflict. Because presence is lost we can find ourselves in what we see. Just as Benjamin said that anyone can be filmed, anyone can play, and anyone can witness the breaking of the game.
Video games aren’t special, but they are real. They are human. As broken and beautiful as anything we create.